Andre Ferretti took a boat down the Tagacaba River, clambered
ashore over mangroves and hiked up a hill that overlooks a
spectacular vista of pastures, mountains and the glistening waters
of the Atlantic.
There he and seven other foresters and laborers hacked away the
rough grass and planted hundreds of inch-high saplings.
The reconstruction of the Atlantic rain forest, one of the
world's most diverse and endangered woodlands, had begun.
The project is a collaboration between Brazilian ecologists, who
envision the return of jaguars, red-tailed parrots and other
creatures, and US multinationals, who see a public relations
victory in bringing back the trees.
The corporate investors also hope to benefit one day from the
forest's air-cleaning capabilities.
With $10 million from General Motors and $5.4 million from the
Texas-based American Electric Power, the Brazilians are buying
41,500 acres of pasture and deforested hills in southern Brazil.
"It's a real challenge to take a cattle pasture and put a forest
on it," says Joe Keenan, one of the program's coordinators.
Less than 8 percent of the original Atlantic Forest remains. For
centuries, since Portuguese explorers began cutting down deep-red
Brazilwood trees shortly after their arrival in 1500, grass has been
growing in areas once sylvan areas. Here in what is now being called
the Itaqui Reserve, the forest was cleared in the 1970s when local
government offered landowners tax breaks to raise Asian water
Now the land belongs to the Sociedade de Pesquisa em Vida
Selvagem e Educacao Ambiental (SPVS), a Brazilian non-governmental
organization that received the US investment through its partner,
The Nature Conservancy, based in Virginia. SPVS had tried to
organize restoration projects before but, unable to afford the huge
tracts of land required, aborted the projects.
In funding the land purchase and restoration program, GM and
American Electric Power have an eye toward supplementing reductions
in carbon-dioxide emissions they are making in their core
businesses. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air through a
process known as carbon sequestration.
Proposals to combat global warming have included a variety of
provisions to help countries meet emissions targets. One approach is
to give countries and companies credit for cutting emissions if
they pay for reforestation projects or projects that help
developing countries adopt energy-efficient technologies or build
less carbon-intensive power plants. …